Five Unique Wines For A Perfect Chocolate Tasting Experience

Tasting wine and chocolate with friends or family is an experience everyone should try.
 
We did this on February 6, 2019.
 
And below we share our experience with you.
 
Five bottles of wine were hand-picked by a French sommelier to pair with our Latest Batch #5, 75% dark chocolate.
 
The origins of the five bottles spanned the world:
 
1. The French Rhone valley - this region has two distinct areas: Northern and Southern Rhone. The Northern region predominantly makes red wines from the Syrah grape, sometimes blended with white wine grapes such as Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. The Southern region makes an array of red, white and rosé wines. They often blend several grapes such as in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. But some of the blended grapes in southern Rhône reds may include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault.


2. Sonoma, California - Located next to Napa Valley, this region is home to terrific Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Sparkling wines. Sonoma is not less in quality then Napa, it’s just a bit less “touristy.” In Sonoma you’ll experience more dirt roads and it gives a hometown feel. 


3. Mendoza, Argentina - This region is the top producing wine area in all of Argentina. It’s located about 600 miles southwest of Buenos Aires at the foothills of the Andes mountains. Some of the world’s finest red Malbec wines come from here.

4. Douro, Portugal - Situated in northern Portugal - near the town of Porto, famous for making Port wines -  this valley has winding steep slopes. It’s main grape, Touriga Nacional was almost extinct back in the 1970’s, but vintners worked hard to bring it back. Today the region is thriving and this grape varietal is rising the ranks of high-quality red wine options.


5. Sherry, Spain - You’ll find Sherry in the south-western area of Spain near Cadiz. It’s a fortified wine - Brandy is usually added - that’s sweet and has a high content of alcohol.  

 
The selection came from Bernard - my (John) French wine expert. He’s my  “go-to” guy when I need a refined opinion for wine and food pairings.
 
He knew exactly which wines would pair with our Batch #5, 75% dark chocolate after handing him a few pieces.
 
It was time get home and prepare the event.
 
Our group was made up of six intimate family and friends.
 
Two are wine experts from Bordeaux - my sister Lynn and her husband Mark. Two of us (my wife and I) consider ourselves wine aficionados - I was a wine buyer and am a life-long student of anything to do with wine. And Dana and Lance - two who are knew to the wine tasting world.
 
On the table were the wines, two appetizer plates filled with our 75% dark chocolate, six Riedel stemless glasses and a spittoon with water to clean the crystal glasses.
 

 
The Latest Batch Costa Rican chocolate batch #5 lay on the table. It’s made with just four ingredients: cacao, cane sugar, cacao butter, and vanilla.
 
We were ready to start. We set the mood with some Pat Metheny’s music. His complex jazz riff’s put everyone’s mind in the right place.
 
Any light music will do though. Something calming. Something that will prepare you for the entire tasting experience.
 
It doesn’t matter which wine you open first when starting a tasting.
 
Lynn told us, “There is no right or wrong. It’s your preference. But it’s important to let the chocolate melt in your mouth to get the most of its flavors. Whether you pair wine with foods or chocolate, it’s time to slow down and dig into what your palate is about to experience.”
 
“Like cheese, you want to taste the flavors. Cheese is complex with a lot of varieties. The same goes with chocolate.”
 
So we popped open the first - and only - white wine to start.
 
 

Wine-pairing #1: Laudun Cotes Du Rhone Villages (2016)

The Laudun Cotes Du Rhone Villages is a blend of three grape varietals: 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Roussanne, 30% Viognier.
 


 
To start, we swirled the glass to open up its aromas.
 
Someone belted out “little fruity on the nose. Smells like Meyer lemon.”
 
One of us observed: “Not too acidic.  However, there’s touch of grass with dried oats or hay. Faint Honeysuckle.” 
 
Wines from this region tend to be more floral… due to the blended grapes.
 
This wine was a delicious treat for everyone at the table. It was a great wine to start the night with.
 
We then tasted the chocolate.
 
Post-Chocolate Tasting: The smoothness of the wine mellowed out the strong flavors of Batch #5. It was the wine’s well-balanced acidity providing these benefits.
 
The thought was the white varietal would subdue the chocolate… but the opposite happened.
 
The flavors between the wine and chocolate complemented each other. And the flavors were better together than on their own.
 
The chocolate’s vanilla became more prominent after a couple sips of wine though.
 
(John’s Personal Notes: The balance is perfect, yet the complexities exist. It took a few melts of chocolate and sips of wine on the palate to extract the nuanced flavors. But that’s the beauty of wine and food pairings. It’s not a one-and-done taste.)
 
Sometimes it takes multiple tries to get the flavor notes.
 
We agreed this was a perfect wine pairing to start the evening. And one we’ll definitely pair again with The Latest Batch 75% Dark Chocolate.
 
Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4/5 Stars.
 
 

Wine-pairing #2: Tuli Pinot Noir (2017)
 

 
Within seconds of our first pour you could smell the fruit inches from the glass.
 
Our noses went into the crystal stemware. Everyone started commenting - “raspberries, pepper, spicy.”
 
The aromas gave off a “certain warmth.”
 
You see, Pinot’s tend to have a lot of berries as part of their makeup. This one was no different. The berry notes were strong.
 
Deep blackberry, violet, floral.
 
The more we swirled our crystal glasses, the more pronounced the scent became.
 
Time to taste.
 
The spice came out right away. Ginger. Pepper. Red pepper flakes without being too “hot.” A wine can be “hot” when its alcohol level is high.
 
(John’s Personal Notes: Fruit forward Pinot Noir. Instant hints of ginger and spice. The Latest Batch Tasting Wheel came handy. First thing that came out was ginger and lots of spice. At the finish was a vibrant pepper flavor in the back of the throat.)

------ The Latest Batch Tasting Wheel -----
 
Jay Holecek - our chocolate maker - created this original tasting wheel. It was intended to help the taster with how the flavor notes change from start to finish.
 
You see, a basic tasting wheel guides you to just one flavor note. But it doesn’t help the user figure out the change from the time it first hits your tongue to the after taste.
 
That’s why Jay created this new tasting wheel.
 

The Latest Batch Tasting Wheel

 
The tasting wheel is mapped out like  a clock - where you start at 12pm the moment you put the chocolate in your mouth. Then you rotate the wheel as the flavor experience unfolds over time.
 
As you follow the clockwise direction of the the categories of tastes on the wheel you'll pass through flavor phases of every chocolate you try. Not all chocolates will have all of these categories, but they are in the right places for you to look for them and understand more about the flavors you are tasting.
 
------ The Latest Batch Tasting Wheel -----
 
This Pinot’s tannins and acidity are balanced.
 
(Tannins are ”the drying sensation” you get on your tongue or even feel on your teeth.)
 
Post-Chocolate Tasting:  the vanilla ingredient exploded after tasting the wine first. On the first pair with the Pinot Noir, we sipped wine then snacked on the chocolate. Doing this sequence, the vanilla in the chocolate danced off our tongues.
 
Then we switched it up – chocolate first, then the wine. The predominant comment was how the chocolate made the wine pop. It’s normal for food to make flavors in wine come out. This is a classic situation.
 
The wine’s spicy characteristics jumped off our tongues. It was a perfect pairing.
 
The spice – vanilla combination was a crowd favorite. As if opposites found their perfect attraction.
 
This pairing was so good we made the decision to switch up the music to reset the mood. The feeling was now a bit more dramatic. It was the perfect time for Pink Floyd.
 
Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4.5/5 Stars.
 

Wine-pairing #3: Quinta Das Carvalhas, Touriga Nacional (2014)
 


 
The Douro region in Portugal is starting to come of age. Historically, folks refer to Portugal for their port wines. But Portugal has really expanded its variety in the last ten years.
 
Its predominant grape is Touriga Nacional. It’s a powerful red varietal with lots of floral notes like rose, cherries and jam. These types of wine are best with foods where its complexity come out when enjoyed with foods. When drunk alone you can lose or miss hidden flavors. This wine needs pairing and is best enjoyed with something else.
 
This particular bottle had a bit of a harsh acidity and not as much “pop.” It showed pronounced tannins and an astringency-like drying that is similar to acidity.
 
After wetting our palates and getting a brief understanding of this wines make-up, it was time for chocolate.
 
The wine didn’t do much for the chocolates flavors. Yet the wine’s finish lasts a lot longer and is more prominent when combined. There was a clear espresso flavor emanating. Again, The Latest Batch Tasting Wheel helped us with our sensory experience.
 
Clear as day in the “Roasted part and the First Melt to the Heart” was the espresso. It was strong.
 
These flavors came across as dull, blunt and gave of no sweetness at all. It was a lovely experience that made the pairing worthwhile. This is what pairing is about: enjoying how flavors mix, compliment each other… or are simply not meant together.
 
Overall the consensus was the Touriga Nacional would be a better pairing with meats. It needed a little more “oomph” to extract its flavors. The chocolate was nice, but lacked complementary characteristics.
 
(John’s Personal Notes: Being a wine “explorer”, I like it when a region begins showing up in stores and people start to take notice. I’m becoming a huge fan of the Duoro region and its elegant red wines. This particular wine is complex. You need a hearty food to pair with is. Period. Don’t disappoint yourself trying this on its own then thinking it’s no good. It’s amazing. A few weeks later I bought it again and opened it with a nice grass-fed sirloin. Delish! The espresso essence bounced all over the flesh and sauce of the meat. I’m eager to explore more Duoro Touriga Nacional).
 
It was time for a palate cleanse. We served some beef and lamb balls. It was just what our mouths needed between tastings.
 
At this point of the evening – just over an hour in to the event – the chatter began to flow. Everyone shared his or her new appreciation for trying something new. It was refreshing to spend quality time with friends, free of electronics, enjoying wines, chocolate and having deep conversations.
 
Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 2.5/5 Stars.
 
There was still two more wines to go…
 

Wine-pairing#4: Arraigo Benegas, Cabernet Franc (2016) 


Our wine expert, Bernard, suggested this Cabernet Franc for this evening.
 
Some of the finest wines in the world use Cabernet Franc in the blends. It can act as a softening or mellowing characteristic. But on its own it has a complexity worth exploring. It’s one of my favorite red varietals.
 
Here’s how the pairing went…
 
Once in the stem-less crystal cups the wines aromas were “warm”, fresh and showed some berry and floral notes.
 
Then as we began to taste it, there was an immediate vegetable or grassy flavor emanating. It caught all of us off-guard.
 
But it was a perfect pair with the chocolate.
 
The berry notes brought out the strong sugary flavors and even some sugar cane.  In this instance, the wine made the chocolate better and not the other way around.
 
It was an exact experience as we got from the Pinot in the second pairing.
 
What came out most was the caramel flavor in the chocolate. Anyone who pairs these together would absolutely never know that the chocolate was 75% cacao. It “felt” like a milk chocolate with a lot more sugar. It was such a wonderful surprise. 
 
Folks who aren’t yet fans of dark chocolate need to try this because it makes the chocolate so smooth and brings out sugar flavor.
 
(John’s Personal Notes: On its own, the Cabernet Franc was good… but together with the 75% dark chocolate it was exceptionally great! I’ve been a huge fan of Cabernet Franc since I had my first glass over 25 years ago. Sometimes it’s blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to bring a mellowing effect. It’s not a popular wine you’ll find in stores and is limited in its offering. Seek it out for your next meal - you’ll thank me later).
 
 
 
Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4/5 Stars.
 

Wine-pairing #5: Osborne Pedro Ximenez, Sherry


 


This was Bernard’s - our resident wine expert - top choice for our wine and chocolate pairing.
 
He was confident. “Sweet sweet sweet. But it’ll be thick, heavy and will explode with raisins. I know it’s a goodie with chocolate.”
 
He set some high expectations.
 
At this point, the room’s atmosphere was fun, lots of smiles and the decibel level a bit higher than when we began. You could see our red-stained teeth from the wines.
 
Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” began to play as everyone’s 1,5 ounce glass began to fill up…
 
Of note, the brand of this bottle is Osborne. The grape is Pedro Ximenez.
 
“Prunes!”  That came from Lynn’s voice. “Apricots!” Lynda chimed in.
 
I got raisins: both on my nose and palate. It was sweet. So sweet, it felt as if I was eating a fruit mousse.
 
The flavors expressed honey and maple syrup without eating the chocolate.
But when we put the chocolate in our mouths it was instant prunes and maple syrup.
 
he balance with the chocolate was near perfect.
 
The 17.5% alcohol and the sweetness “cut” through the dark chocolate with ease. And at the finish produced a food-like experience.
 
(John’s Personal Notes: On its own, the sherry was just too sweet. Tons of fruit from the aroma to palate. We unanimously agreed we would not drink this alone. This sherry has one purpose: to drink with foods. And with the dark chocolate is was exquisite).
 
As for the chocolate pairing it was the night’s highlight. There was a lot of anticipation for this sherry-dark chocolate pairing. But it was unanimous that we would not enjoy the extreme sweetness of the sherry on its own at another occasion.
 
Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4.5/5 Stars.
 

Conclusion: What We Learned By Pairing Wine With Chocolate

All of us showed up with open minds. We were open to any possible outcome.
 
Those of us with prior wine experience had certain beliefs of what might pair better or worse. The others went with the flow ready to fill their brain and palates with new knowledge.
 
Although the sherry pairing at the end was a special treat, we spent time reviewing notes.
 
The Tuli Pinot Noir was the surprise of the night. There was something special with spice and pepper wine flavors when combined with the dark chocolate and hints of vanilla. It left an impression that none of us could walk away from.
 
And the Rhone white wine gave us a lot to think about. White wines are not known to make up the best pairing for chocolate, but it was well worth it.
 
The main takeaway is when selecting wines for an event like this; a lot is up to chance. There are too many variables.
 
You could just pick a red wine and have fun with it. Grab an obscure white varietal and try something new.
 
A lot of taste is subjective. So it’s important to enjoy the moment. Enjoy the wine. Enjoy the chocolate. Enjoy the experience with friends.
 
And above all, slow down. Enjoy those who you’re with.
 
There are so many ways to interpret what we smell and taste. There were plenty of moments during this pairing when a flavor was “on the tip of my tongue”, but could not grasp what it was.
 
That’s when someone belted out a fruit, a spice or a mineral that painted the picture perfectly. That’s when the evening’s magic happened.
 
Our hope for you is to go out and create an evening like ours. Make it your own experience. We encourage you to share your experiences with us.
 
And when you’re done, please share how your evening went with us. You can let us now by emailing TLB@thelatestbatch.com.


Wine #1) Laudun Cotes Du Rhone Villages (2016)
 
• Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4/5 Stars.

 
Wine #2) Tuli Pinot Noir (2017)
 
• Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4.5/5 Stars.

 
Wine #3) Quinta Das Carvalhas, Touriga Nacional (2014)
 
• Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 2.5/5 Stars.


Wine #4) Arraigo Benegas, Cabernet Franc (2016) 
 
• Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4/5 Stars.

 
Wine #5) Osborne Pedro Ximenez, Sherry
 
• Wine / Chocolate Pairing: 4.5/5 Stars.